It’s easy to hear and believe the large number of mistruths being spread about plastic bags in an effort to ban them across the state of California. But the facts are being left out of the conversation. The bills proposed in the California Legislature, AB 158 and SB 405, would prohibit the sale of plastic grocery bags and tax paper bags, forcing shoppers to purchase less environmentally friendly – and more costly – alternatives. Given California’s commitment to helping and protecting the environment, passing a plastic bag ban would do the exact opposite.

Legislators would have you believe that plastic bags are less “green” than other bags. I want to address this head on – it takes 70% more energy to manufacture a paper bag than it does to manufacture a plastic bag. And the production of plastic bags consumes less than 4% of the water needed to make paper bags. Even a reusable cotton bag takes more energy to produce. Dr. David Tyler, a professor at the University of Oregon, has pointed out, “the carbon footprint— that is, the amount of greenhouse gas that is produced during the life cycle of a plastic bag—is less than that of a paper bag or a cotton tote bag. If the most important environmental impact you wanted to alleviate was global warming, then you would go with plastic.”

When it comes to reusable bags, some have argued they are the better solution. Life cycle studies, like the one conducted by the UK Environment Agency, compared various products and found that a standard reusable cotton grocery bag must be reused 131 times to ensure it has a “lower global warming potential” than a single use of one plastic bag. Unfortunately, studies show that most bags are rarely used before being discarded by consumers. As you can imagine, this is a serious problem for our landfills, as a single cotton reusable bag takes up far more space and is unable to be recycled. It also means that consumers end up buying more bags to use at home.

Furthermore, when it comes to transportation of each product, it takes seven trucks to deliver the same number of paper bags that it takes to transport plastic bags in only one truck. That means fewer trucks on the road and a lower carbon footprint. From production to transportation, the choice is clear – if California wants to lower carbon emissions and be greener, we need to choose plastic.

EPA data, along with countless litter studies from throughout the country, has found that plastic retail bags make up 0.5% of the municipal waste stream, which indicates that plastic retail bags are likely not leaders in ocean debris either.  There have been claims of large percentages of litter from plastic bags discussed around the Internet for years with no scientific backing or sourcing. Often times, litter studies held by community groups lack the scientific methodology and verification that EPA and other local studies undergo to determine the impact of plastic bags on the waste stream.

In fact, it was here in California where Capitola conducted a study on the impacts of a plastic bag ban or fee. According to results of the study, it was determined that a bag ban or fee would have “no or less-than-significant impacts on the environment,” because of the low amounts of plastic bag litter in the waste stream.

We arrive at the actual reusable and recyclable option – plastic bags. In fact, nine out of ten consumers who take a plastic bag at checkout reuse the bag for pet waste, bin liners and more. They are also 100% recyclable, and over 90% of Americans have access to recycling bins with recycling of polyethylene bags, sacks and wraps having grown in nine out of the last ten years.

This is the reality. Legislators and residents should learn the facts and realize that basing this legislation on false, unproven claims does California a disservice and has unrealized consequences for the state.

Of course, it should be up to the individual to decide, but once people know and understand the facts, the environmentally friendly choice becomes clear. Above all, it is important to keep plastic bags as an option for California residents, so each person can decide whether to make the right, environmentally responsible decision at checkout.